REGINA - Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced some sweeping new policies for parental inclusion and consent in Saskatchewan schools on Tuesday, including requiring parents' consent when students change their preferred names or pronouns.
The new policies take effect immediately, and include the following:
Duncan said schools must seek parent or guardian permission when changing the preferred name and pronouns used by students under the age of 16 in the school. Parent or guardian consent for students under 16 will now be required to change a student's name or pronouns in the school, but for students 16 and over parent or guardian consent is not required.
On the sexual health education curriculum, parents or guardians must be informed and they have the option to decline their children's participation.
Boards of education must immediately pause involvement with any third-party organizations such as ARC Foundation and the SOGI 1 2 3 Program connected to sexual health education, while the ministry undertakes review of educational resources to ensure alignment with curricular outcomes. Only teachers will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom, not outside third parties.
"Today as Minister of Education, I want to ensure parents, regardless of what your family looks like, that we will support your role in the lives of your children with all the rights and responsibilities that come with parenting,” Duncan said.
“We know that parental engagement and inclusion is a vital component for achieving positive outcomes and success in the lives of children, including in their academic lives.”
Duncan explained at the news conference that what prompted the decision was a need for consistency across school divisions.
“We certainly believe that parents are vital for the growth of their own children. We also have policies in place that require parental consent for any number of things — so to go on a field trip, to take part in extracurricular activities, to dispense medication, to have an intervention plan — parents have to consent for those things already.”
He said there will be provisions in place in the event that a child believes they are at risk of harm in the event their parents know, so there will be provisions in place that provide that support.
“My view is the default position can’t be 'how do we keep this from the kids' parents.' The default position needs to be how do we provide that student with the support so that they are comfortable with the parents knowing that decision that they want to make.”
During the news conference Duncan was pressed by reporters about various different individual scenarios that might come up. Duncan responded that they would be working with school divisions to provide clarity to what the policy will look like, saying these were very complex issues.
"In these complex issues parents should be involved more, not less."
Swift reaction opposing the policy
"A new low" was the response from Opposition leader Carla Beck to the policy at her news conference at the legislature Tuesday afternoon.
The NDP leader said her party supported parental involvement in schools, and supported good communication between the home and the school.
But Beck said "we don't support outing kids and putting them at greater risk. And let's be clear -- what we saw from the minister today will put vulnerable kids at greater risk. And I am deeply frustrated, and quite frankly angry, that this is what the education minister in our province spent his summer doing."
Beck also pointed to the other issues in education, pointing to underfunding and overcrowded schools, among others.
"There are a number of issues in education right now," said Beck. "What we saw today from the Minister of Education was not an attempt to solve any of those issues, not an attempt to solve the issues that over 3,500 people came to the legislature recently to talk about."
Beck denounced the government for "reckless cynical and divisive politics that we've seen from the government before" and characterized the announcement a "calculated policy to solve their own political problems," referring to the Sask. United Party's by-election performance in Lumsden-Morse.
She said she saw a government that "looked at what happened in Lumsden, looked at what happened in that by-election with the SUP, and decided for their own political reasons that they were going to take the position essentially of the SUP raised in the recent by-election in Lumsden-Morse. I think this is a reaction to a political problem that this Minister and this government has. It certainly isn't policy that is designed to improve our schools or make our classrooms more welcoming, better places for kids to learn."
When asked if she thought the new policy was transphobic, Beck responded "yes."
There has also been a strong reaction from the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. President Lori Johb issued a simple one-line statement, saying: "Outing children as part of a political gamble is violent and despicable."
The Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation has condemned the new policy. "Without meaningful consultation from experts in the education sector, the government has introduced a policy driven by political ideology, which will harm 2SLGBTQIA+ students. Similar policies in other provinces have been analyzed by child advocates and deemed to be unconstitutional. This policy raises questions of human rights and is in opposition to theUnited Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation is calling this new Ministry of Education policy a massive overreach and an attempt by the government to react to recent by-election losses," they stated in a release.
“This is a political response to a government losing support in a by-election to a far-right party, following an isolated incident,” said Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Samantha Becotte in a statement. “Once again, as with this government’s recent advertising campaign on teacher salaries, we are seeing education issues being tossed around like political footballs.”
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